Editor’s Note: Here is the latest dispatch from Vicki Shurly, Director of Peninsula Community Library, who has been on the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship in the Pacific Ocean with her husband Bob – a dream trip on which they embarked in February before the COVID-19 virus pandemic spread across the globe. The ship was turned away from several ports across the ocean, but the tide, it seems, has turned.
Previous Installments: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5. Read on for Part 6 of their story, and feel free to leave encouraging thoughts and comments for Bob and Vicki in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
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Also … Vicki said to be sure and thank everyone for their comments, prayers and well wishes for her and Bob. Thank you! They are very much appreciated as they continue to navigate their way back home.
THE JEWEL HAS LANDED! Well, not exactly, but we were allowed to dock in Honolulu Harbor yesterday afternoon by the government of Hawaii. We sailed in with a U.S. Coast Guard escort. With the help of three pilot boats, we managed to get into position at the dock, in spite of the issue with the propulsion system. As the Jewel requires repairs that need the passengers off, we are being allowed to disembark.
Nineteen Chartered Planes to Various Countries
As a part of the agreement, Norwegian Cruise Lines has been required to get us all off the island via chartered plane to key cities. Nineteen planes are carrying us to different parts of the globe and, for most of us, closer to home. The planes will take the Germans to Frankfurt, the Australians to Sydney, the Canadians to Vancouver, various European nationals to London, and U.S. citizens to Los Angeles. Hawaiian residents were transported to islands other than Oahu this morning.
You must leave on the flight to which you are assigned. Absolutely no changes are allowed. Well, except for one. A Wisconsin woman was extremely distressed over being assigned to a plane to Los Angeles different from her husband. That was quickly corrected. No one wants to be alone in the world in an unfamiliar city at this chaotic time!
I overheard a French woman arguing with a staff member over why she could not book her own flight directly. She does not want to go to London. However, she must. And I get it. It is the most efficient way to get us on our way.
Incredible Planning, Smooth Sailing Through Immigration
The planning that has gone into this is no less than incredible. There are almost 2000 passengers and just under 1000 crew members. We are from dozens of countries. All this has happened since yesterday afternoon. Initially, every passenger was supposed to be on their merry way this morning, but that changed late last night. Some of us, including Bob and I, are now on a flight tomorrow afternoon. We will remain on the ship until then.
The people I feel sorrow for are New Zealanders, who for some reason, are headed to London instead of Auckland. An Australian told me this was a directive from the government of New Zealand. However, I don’t really know if that is true or not.
Everyone – passengers and crew – went through immigration on the ship this morning. We filled out all the paperwork, including health forms, last night. We were awakened at 5:15 this morning by an all ship announcement telling us that we would be called by group to one of the dining rooms for clearance. We have all been assigned a color, and that color reflects the day and time of our flight. The same color is on the luggage tags we were given after dinner. Bob and I are purple. Bring the paperwork. Bring your ship card. Bring your passport. Privately, we were all thinking – don’t cough, don’t sneeze, smile and try to look as healthy as we are, no matter how sweaty our palms! We were pretty sure that each and every one of us needed to be healthy to disembark.
We waited in line. At a fork in the line, we were divided. U.S. citizens to the right. All others to the left. Surprisingly, we spent less time being cleared for entry than we spent in line. Less time than we have ever spent at almost any border we have ever crossed apart from a ship. Of course, we have been through this many times now at many ports where we were turned away.
Then it was our turn. They scanned the key card, looked quickly at our passports and the health form, and sent us on our way to lunch. Non U.S. citizens had an extra form to fill out, but told us later that they were cleared quickly, too. Honestly, I thought we might be hours. It was so quick that we wondered if we were “legal”. However, we have the proof – they applied a small yellow sticker to the back of our passports as we walked out. What does it say? Simply “cleared”.
Grateful to the Government and People of Hawaii
I am sitting on a deck, looking over the port of Honolulu. I watched a small submarine being towed in. I can see a playground and the clock tower and hotels. I can also see the planes that take off from the airport – those who departed from our little sea village this morning.
I also watched as they disembarked the ship onto the chartered buses that took them out of the secure shipping yard toward their transportation home. Each bus received a police escort with a patrol car on either side – blue flashers turning. I don’t honestly think officials are worried about us “escaping”. I think it is a message to the residents of Hawaii that their government, while being compassionate to all of us, has its citizens’ interests at heart.
I can tell you that everyone on the ship is most grateful to the government and the people of Hawaii. I can also say that the multiple ambulances parked at the side of the ship that were ready to cart off the “virus laden” left empty!
Rainbow in the Sky – A Good Sign
I want to tell you a bit about yesterday. We woke up in the morning to another cruise ship along side us – well, as along side as another large ship can get, perhaps a kilometer or two away. What was odd is that it could have easily sped by since we were slow in the water due to the mechanical issues. Yet, it stayed near us at the same speed, in line with the back of the Jewel.
An announcement was made later in the morning that the ship was a sister Norwegian Cruise Line ship but had no passengers, just crew. Some guests wondered if it was there in case we needed help at sea. The past few days we have had a pretty rough ride. I don’t know if the second ship was there for us or not, but one man made everyone laugh when he said, “We are all on a broken boat, and I hope it gets us home!” I don’t know why it was funny, but we all did laugh.
We crossed into U.S. territorial waters late yesterday afternoon, and as Hawaii became visible, we were all at the rail hoping that it would not be another disappointment. Several men tipped their caps to the Coast Guard and pilot boat crews. Honolulu was a glorious sight, and there were tears of happiness from some.
At the very same moment that the ship was secured to the dock, a rainbow appeared in the sky. We all took it as a sign from the various higher powers that we from many cultures honor, and sure enough, when we returned to our cabins, there was the initial plan for getting us home sitting on our beds.
Finding Our Way Home in a Changed World
It seems that we are at the beginning of a new journey. We are saying goodbye to our new friends with whom we have shared so much. We have exchanged addresses and contact info, and have made promises to keep in touch. Our Australian friends want to come visit us in the fairyland of a Michigan winter, and we want to see their rainforest home made of glass.
We have started to gather a little among our own “kins people.” “You’re from Wisconsin? Wow! I’m your neighbor across Lake Michigan. Guess we are on the same plane to L.A.! What? And that guy and his wife there are from Illinois? We have to get to O’Hare to go home! Let’s all sit together if we can! We can have our own Midwest section of the plane!”
Ultimately, we will all have to find our way home by ourselves in a world that has changed since we left a month ago. But I think we have changed, too. We know we can stay calm and pull together when it seems we are alone in the world, when no one wants us or is afraid of us (and we all understood the fear), or when something isn’t working quite the way it should.
We are excited to go home, no matter what we have to go through to get there. This is the time to be with family. And I am pretty sure we will be there soon!